Mike Newell | 157 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | UK & USA / English | 12 / PG-13
The fourth Harry Potter film is the pivot around which the series revolves, in oh so many ways. Most obviously, it’s book 4 of 7 — the halfway point. It’s also where the books switch from short ‘children’s novel’ lengths to the huge tomes they eventually became. More importantly, it’s the instalment on which the overarching plot of the entire series hangs. Although each previous entry in the Potter canon contributed something to the mythology (even if sometimes its significance wouldn’t become apparent until much later), they’re still viewable as discreet adventures. So too is Goblet of Fire, for the most part — the exception being its final act, which kicks off the story that will consume the rest of the series.
The film is no less of a turning point, for its own reasons. Note that this is when the films’ marketing began to emphasise the ageing of the actors: the teaser trailer begins with shots of Harry, Ron and Hermione from each of the four films; the promotional TV specials go behind the scenes not only on the new film but also its predecessors; clearly substantial retrospective interviews were conducted too: watch the Creating the World of Harry Potter: The Magic Begins documentary on the Philosopher’s Stone Ultimate Edition and it tells the story of the films’ birth by mixing interviews not only from the sets of the first film and the ‘now’ of the final film’s production, but also in costumes and on sets from the fourth movie.
It makes sense: at this point the series was moving beyond your stock franchise length of “trilogy” and into less frequently charted waters, amid speculation that the leads would be recast. With Goblet of Fire being the last point you could reasonably pull that off, I imagine it paid to emphasise that these were the same kids — that we see a cast age in more-or-less real time throughout their childhood, including many small supporting roles as well as the leads, is one of the Potter films’ more unique highlights.
The other big behind-the-scenes decision was one of length. As noted, this is the first Potter story to explode from a short children’s tale, which could be adapted in full in two-and-a-half to three hours, to a lengthy novel that would require masses of time to cover in full. Considerations of spreading it across two films were reportedly dismissed when director Mike Newell promised he could do it in one, essentially by cutting subplots and extraneous material — much as Alfonso Cuarón had on Prisoner of Azkaban, but on a grander scale. (Imagine if they hadn’t made that choice: instead of eight films, the Potter series would have sprawled to 11 instalments!) The result of such editing here is a very direct film, rattling through its plot — even with stuff cut, there’s still a lot of story to cover.
Said story concerns two foreign schools visiting Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament, a series of dangerous challenges, into which someone enters Harry against his will. It’s a nice clear through-line: a series of tasks, interspersed with investigations into who forced Harry to participate and why. It all comes to a head in one of the series’ most famous moments, the murder of Cedric Diggory. I can’t remember if Diggory’s meant to be a nice guy or an irritating jock, but here he’s played by Robert Pattinson, proving it’s not only his involvement with the Twilight franchise that makes him smug and annoying. Still, the impact of Diggory’s demise is still shocking and effective for those who don’t know it’s coming — this isn’t just a light series of children’s adventures any more. Of course, the death of a single-book supporting character is less impactful with an awareness of the franchise as a whole — there’s much worse to come, leaving this a mere opening move.
The other element that begins to creep in from this point is all the teenage romance stuff. Provoked mainly by the Yule Ball, with the guys having to pluck up courage to ask girls and dance lessons with teachers, the characters’ love lives start to become a notable factor. For all the plausibility and humour with which it’s depicted, there are times later when it will become a bit tiresome, especially in the novels. Fortunately, much of that’s internal monologue and subplot, and so goes astray here. Extra thanks to Mr Newell for that.
One of the more overlooked facets of Rowling’s work is her penchant for allegory and gentle satire. That’s understandable — they’re just Kids’ Books about magic, after all, and occasionally thuddingly written ones at that. Allegory you can take or leave (who’s really going to gain a perspective on HIV from Lupin’s struggle with lycanthropy?), but the satire is nice. Here it’s the press under fire. Rita Skeeter may have a greatly reduced role compared to the novel, but her Quick-Quotes Quill — which, essentially, just makes stuff up — is present and correct. The next tale, Order of the Phoenix, carries on this motif (the press demonise Harry), as well as setting its sights on blinkered and ineffectual government, and the evils of exam-focused impractical teachers. It’s all rather pleasing, actually, and you have to hope Potter’s millions of readers took it in and learnt something.
It’s easy to let certain events overshadow the entirety of Goblet of Fire; to subsume it into the single long narrative that arguably takes over the later stories. But though it puts broader events in motion, this is still a self-contained tale all its own — and one of the series’ most exciting at that, between storming action sequences and some effective twists. There’s a fair argument to be made that it’s the film series’ best entry.